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Social capital has increasingly been recognized as an important determinant of health in developed countries with advanced infrastructure, educated populations, and accessible and quality health and educational services. Hence, it may be a particularly advantageous resource in developing countries where human and economic capitals are found wanting. This dissertation addresses the paucity of developing country research on this issue by examining the relationship between social capital and children’s nutritional outcomes in India.

The literature on social capital identifies three key distinctions: between bridging and bonding social capital; between positive and negative effects of social capital; and the different roles of household and community based social capital that are critical for understanding how social capital operates. Using the India Human Development Survey 2005-2006, I operationalize these different forms of social capital and test how they impact child nutrition. I find that household-based bridging social capital has a positive association with child nutrition whereas bonding social capital has the opposite impact. Household-based connections with social capital are of greater importance than community (village)-based social capital. Contextual social capital primarily operates as a proxy for local development.

Next, I find that bridging social capital improves child nutrition by improving access to modern health care, such as antenatal care, improving uptake of government nutrition supplementation programs, and health knowledge. On the other hand, religious or caste-based social capital reinforces traditional fertility ideals and discourages the use of contraception thereby adversely affecting the health of children. Lastly, I ask if the impact of social capital on child nutrition varies by the level of regional development. I find that social capital acts in the expected ways in developed regions, which have stronger public amenities and higher literacy rates. However, in more deprived areas, bonding social capital has unexpected positive consequences on child nutrition because of how social capital interacts with community resources.